Dear Friends Committed to Living and Aging Consciously;
We are so very grateful that the snow is deep here in Durango, Colorado, and throughout the Southwest, after a year of the worst drought in a century. It has been a long, dark winter, yet beneath the snow and ice life is stirring, as evidenced by the crocus and daffodils which are already thrusting their green shoots above the soil as soon as the snow recedes a foot or two in flower beds. This epic series of storms has brought the moisture that will give life to all the beings of this place, including we humans, when this season of hibernation gives way to Spring.
Many of us--perhaps you--have felt the natural call to slow down and retreat to our internal and external caves. We have felt the need to be quieter, get more rest, and get in touch with the seeds of possibility that are waiting to germinate and spring forth when Spring arrives, as it inevitably will within us and in the world that gives us what we need to thrive.
We hope this Winter edition of our newsletter, with its articles, inspirational poetry, and recommended resources, helps awaken seeds of possibility within you as you prepare to emerge into another Springtime.
Which Self Will Win
Making the Daily Choice to Live and Age Consciously
by Ron Pevny
A passionate woman in her sixties, feeling she was finally emerging from a difficult passage from her mid-life adulthood into her next life chapter, approached a wise, white-haired elder widely recognized in the community as an exemplar of wisdom. This emerging elder, dedicated to growth and service as she ages, posed questions that were weighing heavily on her heart to the wise elder: "I have within me a beautiful vision, or at least elements of a vision, of becoming like you. I have an inspiring sense of how I can use my best qualities, skills, and gifts to serve our community and be personally fulfilled as I age. At times I have some wonderful experiences of spiritual connection. My creativity seems to be coming to life again after what felt like a long drought. On many days I feel more peace, joy, and optimism than I have in a long time.
"However, I'm also very aware of a whole other side to me. I often feel fear. Sometimes it is fear that I'm just deluding myself about conscious elderhood, and that growing old is really just a drag. Sometimes it's fear that no matter what visions I have, there's no way I can achieve them in the real world I live in. Sometimes, it's just a free-floating fear of the world and my life and the future. I'm also aware that I have so many habits that I can't seem to change that seem to numb me out. My passion and optimism seem to fade so easily, and I don't know why. My heart feels open one day and closed the next. It seems there are two selves within me, at war with each other. How can I resolve this painful conflict" The elder looked into her eyes with understanding and compassion and said, "The self in you that will win is the one you feed."
Can you relate to the aspiring elder in this story, which I have adapted from a teaching story often attributed to the Cherokee wisdom traditions? A great many of us can.
Most of us who feel the call to age consciously recognize the importance of finding ways to stay intentional and focused when we have received a glimpse of what is possible for us as we age. We know what a challenge it is, no matter how inspired and motivated we feel at times, to grow into a conscious elderhood in a culture that offers little support for doing so. There are many practices that aid in keeping our hearts and minds open, with meditation, prayer, journaling about our goals, and committing to spiritual disciplines being invaluable for many of us. Such practices are vitally important, but alone are often not sufficient.
Equally important are those things we choose to remove from our lives. Which self will win—whether we are increasingly able to live consciously or not—depends very much upon what self in us we feed. Healthy, conscious bodies, minds, and spirits cannot thrive on a physical, mental, and emotional junk food diet.
So, I pose these questions for your reflection, as aids in determining whether you are nourishing the self you aspire to embody as you age.
␣Do you feed your body healthful, vitalizing foods, most of the time—or artificial foods with no vitality?
␣Do you daily feed your mind uplifting food, such as poetry, beautiful music, artwork, inspiring films, and stories of people who are helping to heal the world—or is your diet filled with media-generated images of fear, greed and crassness?
␣Do you do your best to spend your time with people who uplift you, support you, bring out the best in you—or do you have many people in your life who drain your joy and energy?
␣Do you spend time amid the healing, soul-invoking energies of the natural world—or is your life confined to man-made, often energy-sapping environments and influences?
␣Do you feed your spirit with activities and practices that bring you alive and make your heart sing—or are you in a rut, living out of habit, surviving but not thriving?
␣Do you feed yourself with the gift of doing your best to live consciously and intentionally in each situation, making a practice of noticing when you are living on automatic or numbing yourself out, so you can make the choice to be more conscious in those moments—or do you primarily live out of habit with little true intentionality?
We all feed ourselves plenty of devitalizing, disempowering, things, images, addictions, and experiences. It is extremely difficult to experience vision, inspiration, and passion for life when we are filling ourselves with toxins, no matter what spiritual practices we add to our lives. Our visions for a positive elderhood for ourselves and a positive future for our country and planet can only be sustained and supported by the energy of passion. And passion is sustained and supported by the strength of the life force coursing through us. Mental, emotional and physical toxins diminish our life force, leaving us easy prey to the pervasive energies of fear, doubt, confusion and distraction.
Conscious eldering implies a commitment to doing our very best to increase our awareness of what nurtures our highest potential and of what feeds unconsciousness and spiritual/emotional numbness. And it asks us to make lifestyle decisions that reflect this awareness. A conscious elder is committed to living more and more with intention and less and less out of habit. What self are you feeding? What self are you willing to feed?
One powerful example of recognizing and acting upon the need for a change in diet comes from a woman who participated on one of our Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreats. On the retreat she told of her sadness at how the creativity, strong intuition and inspiring night time dreams which used to be a vital part of her life had gradually faded. On the retreat she had a sense that a possible cause of this loss was the fact that a while back she had placed a television on the night stand next to her bed, and had gotten into the habit of falling asleep to TV news or late night talk shows. She committed to replacing the television set with an altar, and to spending the last few minutes before falling asleep reflecting or praying or giving thanks at this table that would remind her of the best in herself and in life. A couple months after the retreat she enthusiastically emailed our retreat group letting us know that she had replaced the TV with a beautiful altar, and that her creativity, intuition and dreaming had come alive.
What changes are you willing to make so that your body, mind and spirit thrive as you age? Is there one tangible change you commit to make within the next seven days in what you feed your mind, body or spirit?
An Encounter with Red Rocks, Snake and Transition
by Wendy Dudley
My pulse tripled and my muscles tightened. Only two hours had passed on my solo day in the desert at Ghost Ranch. And here I was, high on the cliff rocks, facing a snake. I live in the foothills of Canada’s Rocky Mountains, so am used to dealing with bears and cougars, but not a venomous Snake. My adrenaline still rushing, my inner voice began to tell me I was fine, that this was meant to be, that things were unfolding as they must. I was outside my comfort zone, and I knew this is where we learn the big lessons.
Meeting Snake was the pinnacle moment of my week-long Choosing Conscious Elderhood (CCE) retreat, held under the masterful guidance of co-leaders Ron Pevny and Anne Wennhold. Our group was well prepared for our solo. We had discussed our inner fears, and what we needed to release, so that we could move forward in a more free and joyous state. We learned how important it is to come from our hearts, and to speak our truth, and how anything is possible if we overcome our self-limitations and remain open. Using intent as our gateway, we opened ourselves to receive light and love, and messages that can arrive through visions and from Nature.
Surrounded by magnificent red rock cliffs and an oceanic sky, Ghost Ranch is the ideal setting for the CCE retreat, as it is in Nature where we often come face-to-face with our truths. With daily opportunities to commune with the high desert environment, participants are washed with birdsong and the beauty of the spacious and humbling land. Science has proven that being in the natural world can take us into a peaceful state, where we often find clarity in our focus, thoughts and intentions. Some may call this space the Field, the Mystery, the Cosmos, God, or Spirit. The label does not matter. What is important is that we hold this sacred space dear to our hearts, for this is where we seek authenticity and our personal truths which help guide us on our unique paths. It is for this reason that indigenous peoples sought their life purpose through vision quests, when they left their villages and spent time alone steeped in Nature.
By wandering among the trees, along creeks, or in the mountains, we are reminded that we are not separate from Nature. Rather, we are part of it. We are all interconnected through a web of energy. And in doing so, we welcome Spirituality into our lives. Nature is an integral element of the CCE program, whether sitting under a sea of stars, hiking mesa trails, or simply meditating beneath a canopy of arroyo cottonwoods. With loving and caring support by fellow group members, and respectful guidance from the co-leaders, Nature also becomes our teacher and healer.
Basking in the outdoors, we learn that Nature is full of signs to help guide us on our paths. We may find meaning in a particular bird, the shape of a cloud, or an animal crossing our path. The CCE program teaches us to be open, to be willing to receive and accept what is shown us.
And so on this day, I was given Snake, symbolizing transformation since it sheds its skin, casting off an old identity for a new one. According to many cultures, it is also the sign of a medicinal healer, which mirrored my interests in Medical Qi Gong, Shamanic work, and art therapy. Snake rested half in shadow, half in sunlight, marking the importance of seeking balance in all that we do. It also was stretched out, an indication of awakening from a coiled state, as we move from karma to dharma. These signs of healing were significant, as I had arrived at Ghost Ranch with broken trust. Through the letting-go ceremonies and heartfelt group discussions in the retreat, I began to heal, to feel I could trust again — as in trust myself, trust Nature's signs, and thus begin to trust others.
After spending five hours with Snake — during which time I rattled to it and played my flute — I walked up a windy ridge. I felt like I was wrapped in a ceremonial blanket, as I gazed over the mesa and incoming rain squalls. I let the wind rustle my hair, as the rain washed and cleansed my soul. In that moment, I took back all the power I had mistakenly given away. I was now truly the co-creator of the rest of my life, consciously aware that my path was a worthy one, and that I myself was worthy. I felt my calling, as I received affirmation that I was to teach and share my love of Nature through my practice of shamanism and my painted drums which send out healing vibrations when played, echoing the heartbeat we sense and hear when we are still in the womb. To know one's sense of purpose, and to answer it, is transformational and life-changing.
And so, without surprise, when I returned to the rock I had shared with Snake, my reptilian teacher was gone. Its lessons had been passed. My old skins were shed. It was up there, along the cliffs, where the eagles nest and the ravens dip and dive and dance, that my life began to take on a different shape. This could not happen in a boardroom, or among the competing distractions of an urban environment. This could only happen in Nature, in the truth of its songs and chants and meaningful encounters.
From modern-day spiritualists to monastic monks to native North Americans, many spend time in Nature. It is the ideal environment for meditation, since the Earth's electromagnetic frequency is one that promotes relaxation and restoration. When we are in Nature, the tendency is to synchronize with its healing frequency, which also puts us into a state of increased happiness and compassion.
If there is one animal that reflects the essence of the CCE program, it is Snake. Through loving and gentle support, Ron and Anne assist Elders-in-the making with shedding patterns, releasing what is no longer serving us well, and setting intentions as to how we wish to live the rest of our lives. I left the CCE retreat with increased awareness of the conscious state, which is where our dreams and wishes reside, and awareness of the importance of a caring and supportive network. I knew I would always embrace Life with passion, and that our truth comes from deep within our souls. Others may guide us, but only we hold the answers for our unique path.
Building an altar is part of the CCE program, and today, a Zuni stone carving of a fully stretched snake holds a place of honor there, as does the CCE program that allowed me to so fully transform, so that I may trust myself to become the keeper of my own flame, knowing no one has the right to blow it out.
The drumbeats and rattling, which welcomed each morning of our retreat, continue to vibrate throughout my very being.
On a Late November Morning
Late November In the high country
There can be a still day offered,
Suspended between the cold winter to come
And the breezes of autumn With her golden aspen banners.
A day when early snows
Have come and gone,
Summer’s growth now brown
Pressed flat upon the ground,
When the forest floor
Takes on a tidy look,
Of things put away,
Locked up for the season.
Even the deer, the birds,
Withdrawing as if preparing
For what is coming;
Sunlight angling its way
Through the pines
With a softness As it rests upon branches,
Holding back breath.
A day that speaks of clearing away
That which no longer is needed,
Firewood split and stacked,
A moment to reflect upon
The spring and summer of life
And embrace the inevitable
Cold and darkness
A day to begin goodbyes
With the deep appreciation
That comes with the knowledge
Of the gift of breathing.
A quiet late November morning
When the brown grasses
Lay flat to the ground
After heavy early snows
Have since melted,
Waiting for the longest night
And the longer
that will follow.
The Winter of Listening
by David Whyte
No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.
All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
round every living thing.
and then nourishes
What we hate
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.
What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
What we strive for
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.
Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.
All those years
listening to those
nothing to say.
All those years
has its own voice
All those years
you can belong
simply by listening.
And the slow
is born from
Silence and winter
has led me to that
So let this winter
for the new life
I must call my own.
FEARLESS OUT OF WISDOM
(From The Sage's Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for the Second Half of Life)
The youth is fearless
out of foolishness.
The sage is fearless
out of wisdom.
The youth feel invulnerable
and acts without awareness.
The sage knows vulnerability
and acts with mindful care.
The youth has strength
but does not know the Tao.
The sage seems weak
but accesses the power of All Things.
Discovering my strengths
has been a benefit.
But discovering my true weaknesses
and acknowledging them to myself
has been my power growing older.
I see myself for who I am
by Czeslaw Milosz
In advanced age,
my health worsening
I woke up in the middle of the night,
and experienced a feeling of happiness
so intense and perfect that in all my life
I had only felt its premonition.
And there was no reason for it.
It didn’t obliterate consciousness;
the past which I carried was there,
together with my grief.
And it was suddenly included,
was a necessary part of the whole.
As if a voice were repeating:
“You can stop worrying now;
everything happened just as it had to.
You did what was assigned to you,
and you are not required anymore to think of what happened long ago.”
The peace I felt was a closing of accounts
and was connected with the thought of death.
The happiness on this side was like
an announcement of the other side.
I realized that this was an undeserved gift
and I could not grasp by what
it was bestowed on me.
by Elizabeth Lesser
in Broken Open
I have tried it both ways:
I’ve gone back to sleep
in order to resist the forces of change.
And I have stayed awake and broken open.
Both ways are difficult,
but one way brings with it
the gift of a lifetime.
If we can stay awake
when our life is changing,
secrets will be revealed to us
about the nature of life,
and about the eternal source
of happiness and peace
that is always available,
already within us.
by Anne Wennhold
Sitting by the dining room window with a cup of hot chocolate in hand I watch the snow flaking down. It darts, drifts, twirls, dances and slides to a place of rest. My mind follows and comes to rest, as snow does, in silence.
Every year I wait for this miracle of nature to guide me to a place of renewal: body forgotten, mind at rest, soul at peace.
This year I was Christmas shopping at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus and, tired from traipsing the cement floors, I spotted an easy chair positioned on the rim of an overlook to the floor below: the up and down escalators within easy view.
Music was blaring. Shopper’s voices clanged. Lights blinked loudly. Boot heels were a staccato shock to the ears. The last place in the world for a time of silence and renewal, yet….
As I sat and watched shoppers moving on and off the escalator an interesting phenomenon occurred. My Body relaxed. My Mind slowed, My Soul rested. Same result as watching snow fall!
I do not know how long I sat there being renewed but it came to me that the longed for silence, no matter the circumstances, can come from within oneself as well from outer stimulus. As with so much else in our life, it is our own awareness of inner capabilities that gift us with what we need.
Winter months with their cold, snow and stay-indoors-weather provide the template for going within oneself to that place of inner peace that allows new ideas, new life and new activities to gestate and come to fruition.
Bear provides us with the example of hibernating to allow new life (usually two cubs) to arrive in the spring. She is an example of how we can provide ourselves with the place of renewal, the one within, in busier times.
There are the silences of nature: of still water, the night sky and falling snow. Then there is the silence between notes of music that give life to the song and the silence of anonymity in noisy places. These and others are to be cultivated and enjoyed, but always and especially...the silence within.
Upcoming Conscious Eldering Programs
Are you seeking an empowering vision for your elder chapters and tools for helping make that vision reality? Do you need to have your idealism acknowledged, your hope rekindled and your dreams for a vital, passionate elderhood supported?
If so, we invite you to experience one of our week-long Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreats, weekend conscious eldering intensives, or our newest programs offered in collaboration with Omega Institute, and with Katia Petersen, long-time director of the IONS Conscious Aging Program. All these inspiring and empowering experiences tap the loving support of strong community, the wisdom of skilled guides, and the heart-and-mind-opening energy of the natural world to open you to the rich possibiities of your later-life chapters--for growth, purpose, spiritual deepening, and giving your elder gifts to support a healthy society and planet.
The majority of our 2019 schedule of programs is listed below. You can find flyers with the details on our website. We especially encourage you to check our our newest programs:
Embracing Conscious Elderhood
Aiming High: Cultivating Purpose and Intentionality in Life's Later Chapters
Choosing Conscious Elderhood
June 23 - 29 at Breitenbush Hot Springs, Oregon
October 1-7 at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
Weekend Conscious Eldering Intensives
April 26-28 neat Minneapolis, Minnesota
May 31 - June 2 near Louisville, Kentucky
September 27 - 29 in Salida, Colorado
Embracing Your Conscious Elderhood
August 12-16 at Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, New York
This workshop will draw upon the practices of conscious eldering and wisdom and practices from the three Transforming Aging Summits which were hosted by Ron Pevn
Cultivating Purpose and Intentionality in Life's Later Chapters
October 20 - 24 at Westerbeke Ranch near Sonoma, California
This new program presented by Ron Pevny and Katia Petersen (long-time former director of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) Conscious Aging program), will explore a variety of approaches and practices for getting in touch with purpose and bringing intentionality to our lives as we age.
For Organizations, Faith Communities, etc:
We are available to present our weekend workshops or custom designed programs for groups who would like to sponsor one in their area. Contact us to explore possibilities
for details on our programs, please visit
"A beautifully written and important book about aging and elderhood. Pevny reminds us that consciously moving into our greater years is a major rite of passage, and he offers skilled guidance through the many questions and challenges, endings and new beginnings, that arise."
Meredith Little, Co-founder of the School of Lost Borders
How to Live Forever,
Marc Freedman draws upon his skill as a master storyteller to demonstrate that the only way to live forever is to live together. He makes a compelling case that inspires us to connect people of different generations. He profoundly changes the conversation about long life and rewrites the generational compact. It is a beautiful book that inspires purpose in the young and hope & purpose in their elders. Freedman paints a compelling picture of how the age of age apartheid is ending, as social innovators across the globe are bringing the generations together for the benefit of all.
Ron Pevny (drawing from endorsements on the book jacket)
I and many others find this an inspiring, deeply spiritual, heart-opening book that is meant to be savored, one short chapter at a time. It is a series of thought-provoking meditations not just on growing ld gracefully, but on the ultimate meaning of life itself. As she reflects on themes such as Regret, Meaning, Fear, Mystery, Relationships and Letting Go, Joan Chittister invites us to realize that our elder years need not be a drawing away from a fulfilling life, but a new life unto itself which, if lived well, will draw us ever closer to the Source of all life.
Ron Pevny (drawing upon endorsements on the book jacket)
One of our partner organizations, the Elders Action Network (formerly called the Conscious Elders Network) is an educational non-profit organization fostering a budding movement of vital elders dedicated to growing in consciousness while actively addressing the demanding challenges facing our country and planet. They work inter-generationally for social and economic justice,environmental stewardship, and sound governance. They offer their multiple talents and resources in service to the goal of preserving and protecting life for all generations to come. Anyone committed to living and serving as a conscious elder in invited to join them in this critically important endeavor. To learn about EAN and its initiatives and programs, visit www.eldersaction.net
Another of our partner organizations is Sage-ing International, the pioneering organization in promoting the principles of conscious aging, or "Sage-ing". Their work is grounded in the work of Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, who introduced conscious aging to the world with his workshops at Omega Institute with Ram Dass and others and via his seminal book,
From Age-ing to Sage-ing.
Sage-ing International is committed to transforming the current disempowering paradigm of aging to one of Sage-ing through learning, service and community. Their work is focused through:
: They share the Sage-ing philosophy worldwide by providing workshops,conferences, webinars and publications for the public, and a training program for Certified Sage-ing Leaders.
: They encourage and support elders in serving their families, communities and others around the world.
: They provide opportunities for individuals on their Sage-ing journeys to share and connect with others through interactive modalities that include chapter programs and Elder Wisdom Circles.They foster collaboration with others, including the Center for Conscious Eldering, who share their vision.
To learn about Sage-ing International, visit www.sage-ing.org.
The Voice of the Anti-Ageism Movement
Old School is a clearinghouse of free and carefully vetted resources to educate people about ageism and help dismantle it. You’ll find blogs, books, articles, videos, speakers, and other tools (workshops, handouts, curricula etc.) that are accessible to the general public. Their goal is to help catalyze a movement to make ageism (discrimination on the basis of age) as unacceptable as any other kind of prejudice.
This clearinghouse is the brainchild of anti-ageism activist Ashton Applewhite of
This Chair Rocks
, who created it with
Old School is an ongoing, interdisciplinary collaboration that will only reach its potential with help from the pro-aging community. This means you! If you have an ageism-related resource to contribute to Old School –
about positive aging
creative aging, but
please visit their website,
and look for the information on how to contact them..
Ron Pevny, Founder and Director
The blessing of nostalgia is that it can serve to remind us that just as we survived all of life before this, grew from it, laughed through it, learned from it as well, we can also live through this age with the same grace, the same insights—and this time, share that audacious spirit with others.
Joan Chittister in
Gift of Years